Tom Heaton is ready to battle with Nick Pope for the number one jersey at Europe-chasing Burnley.
Heaton dislocated his shoulder in September but has returned to take a place on the bench for Burnley’s last two matches, with Sean Dyche’s men recording five straight Premier League wins to strengthen their chances of Europa League qualification.
Pope has thrived in the absence of club captain Heaton, the 25-year-old earning a maiden England call-up for March friendlies against Netherlands and Italy.
But Heaton – who has three England caps himself – is not giving up hope of reclaiming his spot for club and country ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
“I’m absolutely delighted for Popey, he’s a top lad and we have a very good relationship,” Heaton told Omnisport on behalf of Know The Score, a campaign uniting football in April to raise awareness of bowel cancer signs and symptoms.
“I’ve been impressed with him since we signed him from Charlton, two years ago I think it was. He’s been excellent. He’s come in the side and it’s difficult having not played Premier League football before and his performances have been outstanding all the way through, so [I am] delighted for him.
“Obviously, I don’t love sitting on the bench, of course I’ll be competing for the shirt to get in the team, but that’s part and parcel of the football club. Every player here in the squad will be desperate to play, that competitive edge, I’m certainly going to enjoy the challenge and I’m sure he is as well.
“I think first and foremost, especially as captain, your mindset is for the club and what’s right for that, and the lads have been outstanding this season.
“I think to be in such a good, strong position pushing for Europe at the moment is a great marker. It’s been a brilliant season. Obviously, disappointed to miss out on it on a personal level, but as I say such is life.
“I’ve been very lucky with injuries and I’m delighted to be back fit now and fighting to get back involved.”
With five matches of the campaign remaining, Dyche must decide whether to stick with Pope or bring back Heaton, with the Clarets in action at home to Chelsea on Thursday.
“I don’t know. I think that’s probably a message for the manager, it’s a difficult one for me to answer that,” Heaton said of his chances of seeing action this season.
“I wouldn’t expect it. The manager here is a manager of this football club, he has to run it how he sees fit, so I think he’ll make his decision when it’s right at the time.
“I’ve now been on the bench twice for the first team at this point, so it’s been a long six-and-a-half to seven months, tough at times, from such an innocuous fall. I never really thought it’d be such a bad injury really, especially for a goalkeeper the shoulder’s not ideal.
“There were a few complications that went with it, nothing major, but just time to get it right. I’m delighted to be back and I think the time out certainly gives you an appetite to be back out on the pitch, I’ve certainly got that hunger, so the final part of the season I’m looking forward to being involved in.”